Sophia Acquista, as Laurey Williams, takes the stage for Hoosac's production of 'Oklahoma!'
CHESHIRE, Mass. — When Hoosac Valley says the show must go on, the school means it. Coronavirus or not.
The Hoosac Valley School Theatre was able to hold a special performance of the musical "Oklahoma!" for friends and family last week even as school districts around the county prepared for closure.
During one of the group's final dress rehearsals it was announced that the school would be closed in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, grounding months of rehearsals and hard work.
"When I heard there wouldn't be a show I was not surprised but still kind of was," Jackson Keplinger, who plays cowboy Curly McLain, said. "It's one of those things that I was expecting to happen but when it actually happened I was like, 'Woah.' "
Hoosac Valley had planned to perform the Broadway musical on Friday, March 13, and Saturday, March 14, but it was announced Thursday that the school would be closed for deep cleaning for a few days.
This developed into a two-week closure, that has now become three.
More than 40 students were preparing to perform, play in the pit band, and run lights and sounds. Written by composers Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II, "Oklahoma!" takes place in the early 20th century and tells the story of farm girl Laurey Williams and her courtship by two suitors: McLain and farmhand Jud Fry.
Some would ask if there was even a reason to run through a final dress rehearsal and Sophia Acquista, who played Laurey, said even though they knew this cancellation was probably coming it was still tremendously sad.
"Well at that point, for me personally, my gut knew that we were only going to have one shot at this performance if that," she said. "To actually hear the news was a little heartbreaking."
Stage director Nancy Pedercini-Acquista said the school administration began communicating to the department that weekend shows likely would not be happening but it was decided that one small show could go on.
"We were 10 minutes to show time and [Superintendent Aaron Dean] was there to deliver the crushing news that we would only be able to perform one show," Nancy said. "I had just spoken to my cast to give whoever could come the show of a lifetime, to leave it all on stage and to have fun doing it."
Jackson said theater members reached out to friends and family and invited them to the dress rehearsal turned opening/closing night.
"A lot of posting on social media helped and everyone trying to spread the word to show up a day before was what got people out," Jackson said. "We found out at about 2 p.m. so we had a couple of hours to spread the word"
Music director Jacob Keplinger said they were able to gather a crowd of about 150 and, after taking some time to compose themselves, Sophia said, they hit the stage.
"After I and a few other cast members finished shedding some tears and fixing our makeup, we all came together in a truly magical way," she said. "There was definitely some sadness, but mostly excitement knowing that we only had one chance to make this show, that we had worked so tirelessly on for months now, the best it could possibly be made us more ready than ever to go out and give an amazing show."
Pedercini-Acquista agreed and said she was amazed at how everything came together so quickly.
"Lots of tears ensued, especially from our seniors, but the show could and must go on, so I gave them a minute to pull themselves together and take their places for Act I," she said. "We thought that we would have a small, intimate viewing, but the power of social media helped the audience grow during Act I to about 80 people in-house."
She said students live-streamed the show and even more began to filter into the auditorium.
Jackson said they were happy to have an audience and be able to at least perform the show once.
"I think everyone in the cast, crew, and pit band was relieved that after all the hours of work there was still going to be some type of a show," Jackson said. "I think that having the performance under difficult conditions was important, especially for the seniors who won't have another show, and after all the hours we put into it, being able to perform it, even if only for a partial audience.
Keplinger, who said this was the last time directing his son Jackson, who is a senior, said there is nothing like performing in front of a live audience.
"Obviously it wasn't the full house we were expecting for a typical Friday and Saturday performance, but a show, especially a musical, needs an audience to live," he said. "The reactions, applause, cheers; that is what makes it so enjoyable. And from a director's point of view, getting to have the kids experience that is such an important and enjoyable part of the process for me."
Sophia said students had worked on this show -- three hours every day after school for three months -- and it needed to exist in some way.
"It would have been an absolute shame to let it die on stage, which I think is why everyone got so excited to give it the one shot that we had," she said. "I think our little audience was happy it saw the light of day, too."
The students spent months preparing for the musical and wanted to make sure it was performed.
Pedercini-Acquista added that the groups exceeded her expectations during a stressful time.
"I think that they exceeded not only my expectations but their expectations," she said. "...The laughter and happiness as the cast danced, sang and delivered some funny one-liners was audible from the audience as I directed backstage. It may have only been one show, but they delivered a performance that showcased talent and grace."
Sophia said the uncertain times of the COVID-19 outbreak has left many housebound and she thought the musical provided a little relief
"I think our show was our last hurrah against everything that is going on in the world right now. Things are getting very serious, and have been, and all in all, it was definitely safer for everyone to cancel the shows," she said. "However, I do think that for the sake of good spirits, having our show was important for the students involved, the directors who put everything into it, and for the people of the community as a little bit of hope and social togetherness before all the social distancing.
"I'm glad that everyone is safe and at home, but I am also proud to say we got to give our performance."
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — Cheshire to test CodeRED system on Oct. 27 at 4:30 p.m.
On Oct. 27 the Town of Cheshire will conduct a performance test of the system at 4:30 p.m., contacting everyone in the town who is currently in the emergency database.Receiving a test message will assure that residents will receive a message when an actual alert is issued by Cheshire officials.
In an event of an emergency, the town issues alerts through CodeRED, a high-speed notification solution. The CodeRED system allows messages to be quickly delivered to targeted areas of Cheshire or to the Cheshire as a whole.
Residents who have not enrolled to receive emergency CodeRED notifications or did not receive a test message should immediately visit the Cheshire website and click the CodeRED tab to enroll.
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iBerkshiresTV host Jeff Snoonian speaks with Selectmen Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi and Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV about the upcoming annual town meeting, the budget voters will decide and the precautions being put in place because of COVID-19.
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